Red Cross has emergency need for blood donations

Source: KOMUnews/Abbie Loveall

The Red Cross faces an emergency need for blood donors after harsh January weather cancelled more than 300 blood drives across the country. Every day, the Red Cross has to collect 14,000 blood donations to maintain an adequate blood supply for the 2,600 hospitals and transfusion centers in its network, said Mary Grant, a Red Cross spokeswoman for the Massachusetts region.

“What we’re looking at now is a national blood supply that is low,” said Grant. “Basically, right now, the blood and platelet donations that are coming in are being distributed almost immediately to hospitals.”

The problem started when the Red Cross saw its typical dip in donations during the summer and winter months. “High school and college students are big blood donors,” said Grant. “Very strong supporters. When they go on vacation, we feel that immediately.”

The Red Cross had already hit an “urgent need” situation at the end of 2015, but the harsh January weather across the mid-Atlantic region and other areas cancelled blood drives, pushing the situation into “emergency need” status. About 9,500 donations went uncollected.

Each blood donation is divided into three parts: red blood cells, plasma and platelets. Because of this, every single donation can help save three lives, said Grant. The difficulty of the situation is compounded by the fact that blood is perishable, she said. Red blood cells last about 42 days. Plasma can be frozen and last up to a year. But platelets, which are used to help clotting, last only five days.

About half the donors Grant speaks with tell her that they are giving back after a loved one needed a transfusion. “It’s something you don’t really think about until a loved one needs it,” she said. The other half do it because they might not have money but they have time and they have blood, and they can help someone in need.

“We are the nation’s single largest blood service provider,” said Grant. “That brings with it the responsibility to make sure that blood products are available for all patients, no matter where or when they are needed.” Blood donation appointments typically take about an hour. Eligible donors can give blood every eight weeks. Donors must be at least 17 years old, or in some states 16 years with parental permission, and be generally in good health.

Blood donation appointments can be scheduled using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Nicole Fleming is a Boston Globe metro correspondent, freelance writer, and author of The Girl Who Ate Boston food blog (www.TheGirlWhoAteBoston.com). Follow her on Twitter @GirlEatsBoston.

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